Who wouldn‘t want that job, you might ask, the above being from the jacket of “The Nanny Diaries,“ a glitzy train wreck of a novel that defies you constantly to put it down.
It holds many points of fascination, with its detailed, insiders look into the Park Avenue apartments where women wouldnt be seen without being draped in Prada, children attend Mommy and Me groups with their sitters and peers named Brandford and Darwin, and fathers, when they deign to make their presences known at all, are stunningly oblivious to the needs of their families.
Welcome to the world of “The Nanny Diaries,“ an instantly addictive read that manages to be - all at the same time - hilarious, complex, befuddling, riotous, poignant, and more than a bit sad, much like child-rearing itself.
Written by two former Manhattan nannies, Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, who bill this as a work of fiction though much of it seems to ring way too true, even for those in the unwashed masses that include this reviewer, this best-selling novel charts the path of a nanny by the same name who is attempting to find a job that is compatible with her child development classes at NYU.
This modern-day Mary Poppins finds herself in the employ of the remarkably self-possessed and absorbed Mrs. X and her infidel husband Mr. X, looking after four-year-old Grayer, a genuinely good child who seems destined for neuroses, if for no other reason than that he has a schedule built around esteem groups, ice skating and French lessons, and teachers who want Nannys “methodology“ for dressing him each morning.
As the book opens, we meet Nanny as she makes a visit to the posh Parents League, looking for work:
“I tune out the officious, creamy chatter of the women behind me to read the postings put up by other nannies also in search of employment.
“Babysitter need children very like kids vacuums“
“I look your kids Many years work You call me“
The bulletin board is already so overcrowded with flyers that, with a twinge of guilt, I end up tacking my ad over someone elses pink paper festooned with crayon flowers, but spend a few minutes ensuring that Im only covering daisies and none of her pertinent information.
I wish I could tell these women that the secret to nanny advertising isnt the decoration, its the punctuation - its all in the exclamation mark. While my ad is a minimalist three-by-five card, without so much as a smiley face on it, I liberally sprinkle my advertisement with exclamations, ending each of my desirable traits with the promise of a beaming smile and unflagging positivity.
Nanny at the Ready!
Chapin School alumna available weekdays part-time!
Child Development Major at NYU!
The only thing I dont have is an umbrella that makes me fly.
I do one last quick check for spelling, zip up my backpack, bid Alexis adieu, and jog down the marble steps out into the sweltering heat.
As I walk down Park Avenue the August sun is still low enough in the sky that the stroller parade is in full throttle. I pass many hot little people, looking resignedly uncomfortable in their sticky seats. They are too hot even to hold on to any of their usual traveling companions - blankets and bears are tucked into back stroller pockets. I chuckle to myself at the child who waves away the offer of a juice box with a flick of the head that says, “I couldnt possibly be bothered with juice right now.“ “
Nanny settles in with the X family, and the games begin. The hilarious (and equally appalling) Mrs. X sees both her employee and her son as yet another status symbol, and subjects Nanny to a steady stream of bizarre demands, passive aggressive missives written on expensive stationery, and condescension. The familys lifestyle gives a new meaning to the term “dysfunctional“ in a way not even Jonathan Franzen did in his amazing novel “The Corrections,“ though under these authors microscope, its a pretty frightening picture.
On the down side, theres the disintegrating marriage of the Xs, Nannys 24-7 attempts to ensure that “a Park Avenue wife who doesn‘t work, cook, clean, or raise her own child has a smooth day,“ class struggle modern day servitude issues (since when does attending the preschools Family Day or helping aid and abet her employer in carrying on his extramarital affairs fall into ones job description, both the reader and Nanny wonder?), and especially, the fragile emotional well being and psyche of her young charge.
On the up side, theres the deepening bond that builds between Grayer and Nanny, who quickly emerges as one of the most consistent figures in his privileged, yet deprived young life. Were their relationship not as well-crafted and touching as it is, this might be a rather unpleasant read, but you come to care quickly about both, which contributes greatly to this thoroughly entertaining tell-all.
If youre into audio books, check out Julia Roberts lending her voice to that version, and count on this making its way to the big screen in the not-too-distant future, possibly with Kate Hudson starring as Nanny. In the meantime, though, put “The Nanny Diaries“ on your summer reading list, sit back, and enjoy the book that has everyone - from Park Avenue wives to young women pregnant with their first child - buzzing.